“I love you,” he says, as if he feels I need to hear it. I don’t. I know.
“I love you, too.”
“And you were a smoking hot Hello Kitty,” he adds with a wolf whistle as the plane’s nose turns downward, taking us to the next step in our hare-brained escape plan.
Vegas is big and bright. Duh, right? But I mean BIG. And BRIGHT. It’s like Times Square on steroids sprinkled on top of a big dose of Molly with a case of Red Bull thrown in for fun.
I crane my neck, plastering my face against the limo window, looking up.
“I can’t believe you’ve never been to Vegas,” Declan says for the fourth time in ten minutes.
“C’mon. Not everyone has the means to travel like your family.”
“You never took family vacations?”
“We did. Camping. To the beach. I don’t think dragging three girls to a place where toplessness is legal and Santa Claus carries an LED sign on a backpack with crotch shots really qualifies as a family destination site.”
He frowns. “Anterdec’s resort is trying to do just that.”
I look out the window and see what appears to be Chewbacca from Star Wars receiving oral sex from Elmo.
“You have your work cut out for you,” I reply, pointing to the scene.
“May the Force be with you,” he mutters.
The limo halts at a red light. Famous performers whose names I’ve heard growing up have their faces plastered all over the sides of skyscrapers, the buildings jutting up like towers of Babel in the desert. I’ve seen movies about Vegas. Watched a few documentaries. Even had friends come here and return home with wild stories of gambling and reckless sex.
Until you’re driving down a palm-tree-lined boulevard with wide streets, broad sidewalks, and outdoor escalators leading to catwalks that span the road every block as far as the eye can see, with choreographed water fountains, beggars, old ladies wearing stripper-joint t-shirts that say Girls, Girls, Girls and handing out free passes to nudie bars, you don’t really get a sense of the electrified chaos and the extraordinary overstimulation of it all.
I’m beginning to think that coming here was a bad, bad idea.
As if he reads my mind, Declan scoots me by my ass across the seat, where he nestles me in his warm arms. He smells like sweat and sex, like remnants of his morning shower’s soap, like my deodorant and the sweet grapes we ate on the plane before dashing to this limo. I’m so used to having Gerald or Lance at the helm. Geordi is our driver, and he looks just enough like Harrison Ford with purple streaked hair under his hat to make me wonder if this isn’t one big movie set and Declan’s playing an elaborate practical joke on me.
“Hey. It’s not all like this.”
“Vegas. This is all for show. For the masses. We’ll drive into the underground garage and take the private elevator to our room. You won’t have to see a thing.”
“See what thing?”
He laughs. I elbow him.
“I meant the casino floor. The indoor gardens. The shops you clearly don’t want to patronize,” he adds with a touch of saccharine. “The craziness.”
I twist in his arms and look at him. In the neon glow of nonstop blink and change from signs like Tokyo, he looks well worn. Tired. His guard is down, and a piece of me loves him a little more for it. My mouth stretches open with a noisy yawn and he laughs, then yawns as well.
“It’s contagious,” I whisper. The familiar sound of Michael Jackson music is muted outside. I turn to find an impersonator on the granite sidewalk, dancing with sharp moves, tipping his hat to the audience as dark ringlets bounce with his steps. The song ends just as the light cycle changes and we creep, slowly, into the parking garage.
We climb out of the limo, attendants everywhere, dressed in burgundy jackets, black pants, and most of them wearing earbuds. Soft, modern pop music floats through the air as Declan climbs out, offering his hand to me. I make it to a standing position and wobble. The day has been long. I purposely didn’t drink on the flight, afraid to make a crazy, nerve-jangling day even worse, but now that we’re here—really here—I just want a long soak in a big, hot tub and a bottle of Champagne for my greedy little self.
Then about twelve hours of spooning sleep with Declan.
“Mr. McCormick,” says the attendant who opens the door to the building, handing Declan a set of key cards. He whispers in Declan’s ear. Whatever he tells him, Declan’s face folds into a mixture of reactions. I don’t ask. I’m too tired to ask.
We walk into a plushly-carpeted hallway, face a set of elevator doors, and a new attendant nods.
“Mr. McCormick, good to see you.” Declan’s curt nod is all he gives. We enter the elevator and Declan lets out a long, slow exhale.
“They all know you?”
“I called ahead to let them know we were coming.”
“How do they all know you?’
He cocks an eyebrow. “Because Anterdec owns the place. I interned here in college. I’ve spent more time here than I should have.”
“What’s that mean?”
He washes his jaw with one hand. “Let’s just say I like the roulette wheel a little too much.”
“Baccarat now. High stakes only. More controlled variables.”
“What else don’t I know about you?”
The elevator doors ding and he pivots me to the right. “Isn’t that why we’re getting married? So you can get to know me better?” We stop at a set of double doors. The hallways are done in a mix of beige marble shades and burgundies, ornate color patterns designed to convey richness. Old world. A kind of nouveau decoration scheme that says, You’ve made it with a mix of Hey, modern plumbing.